Members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, pointed to budget cuts Wednesday as the reason why 40% of the country’s population has been left without access to gas masks, as Israelis scramble to prepare for potential retaliation by Syria if the U.S. moves forward with an expected attack on the regime as a response to its use of chemical weapons.
MK Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Communications Minister, who is responsible for Israel’s postal authority, which distributes the gas mask kits and atropine syringes used as an antidote to some chemical weapons, called a meeting for late Wednesday with representatives of the Home Front Command and the National Emergency Authority for a new assessment of what preparations are still required, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Home Front Command call center lines collapsed due to the high number of inquiries for the gas mask kits. In Jerusalem, a distribution center was mobbed, and gas mask kits were looted, while in Sharon, Israelis rioted and the Army requested police to help restore order.
MK Eli Yishai, joint leader of the Shas party, and former Interior Minister, said funding to prepare Israelis for any war or unconventional terrorist attack, had been completely cut, and called on the government to fund production of more gas mask kits. The Jerusalem Post reported that NIS 1.3 billion ($364 million) is required to supply the 40% of Israeli’s who don’t have gas masks, in addition to NIS 300 million ($84 million) for maintaining and refurbishing them every year.
“We all hear the winds from the north, and this obligates the government to approve the funding in the relevant section,” MK Yishai told Channel 10, adding that, in the absence of more kits, the government should prioritize distribution to areas where the risk is greater.
MK Reuven Rivlin of Likud, a former Chairman of the Knesset, said: “There was a failure and now [the government] is working to create affordable kits, but the ultimate responsibility is on the State of Israel. Until a year ago, the state budget supported the production and distribution of kits, but in the last budget the state participation was zero due to economic and social distress.”
On Sunday, the Israel Postal Company said its call centers have been inundated with inquiries for gas mask kits that protect the user from many of the harmful toxins used in chemical weapons, with four times the number of calls, and a three-fold increase in orders. Normally, 2,000 kits are distributed in Israel each day.
The increased concern comes as U.S.-led armies have increased their rhetoric calling for a military response after Syrian rebel forces fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad claimed the regime used chemical weapons in an attack on a rebel stronghold, in a suburb outside of Damascus, last week.